My climax began to rip through me. Her hand fell from my hair to cover my own mouth and I closed my eyes and let the wave overtake me. My final thrusts were deep and hard as I spilled into her.

I opened my eyes, kissing her palm before removing it from my mouth and laying my forehead against her shoulder. The oblivious voices from below continued to carry up to us. She leaned back into me and we stood there quietly for a few moments.

Slowly, she began to pull away, and I frowned at the loss of contact. I watched as she straightened her skirt, retrieved her bra, and attempted to retie the straps of her top. As I reached down to pull up my pants, I grabbed the torn lace of her underwear, shoving it into my pocket. She was still struggling with her dress and I walked over, brushing her hands away and retying the straps without meeting her gaze.

The room was suddenly too small and we glanced at each other once in an uncomfortable silence. I reached for the knob, wanting to say something, anything, to fix this. How could I ask her to f**k me and only me, and not expect anything else to change? Even I knew asking for that was likely to earn me a swift kick to the nuts. But the language for what I felt when I saw her with Joel wasn’t crystallizing fast enough. My mind was blank. Frustrated, I opened the door. We both stopped short at the sight before us.

There, standing outside the doorway, arms folded and eyebrow raised knowingly, was Mina.

The moment he opened the door and we came face-to-face with Mina, I froze.

“What exactly were you two doing in there?” she asked, her eyes moving between the two of us. A recap of all she could have heard flashed through my head, and I felt a burst of heat spread along my skin.

I chanced a look over to Mr. Ryan as he did the same, then turned back to Mina and shook my head. “Nothing, we needed to talk. That’s all.” I tried to play it off, but knew the tremor in my voice gave me away.

“Oh, I heard something in there, but it certainly wasn’t talking,” she said, smirking.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Mina. We were discussing an issue at work,” he said, trying to move around her.

“Yes. You sent me up here to find her. This is where I found her.”

She shifted in front of him, blocking his path. “Do you think I’m stupid? It’s no secret that you two don’t discuss anything; you yell. So, what? Are you two, like, dating now?”

“No!” We both yelled at once, our eyes meeting for a brief moment before quickly darting away.

“So . . . you’re just f**king then,” she said, and it seemed that neither of us could find the words to reply. The tension in that hallway was so heavy I briefly considered how much damage a jump from a third-story window could do. “For how long?”

“Mina . . .” he began, shaking his head, and for once I actually felt bad about his discomfort. I’d never seen him look like this before. It was as if all this time it really hadn’t occurred to him that there could be consequences outside of our own turmoil.

“How long, Bennett? Chloe?” she said, looking between us.

“I—we just—” I started, but just what? How could I explain any of this? “We—”

“We made a mistake. It was a mistake.” His voice cut through my thoughts and I looked over to him in shock. Why did it bother me so much that he said it? It was a mistake, and yet hearing him say that . . . hurt.

I couldn’t tear my eyes away as she began to speak. “Mistake or not, it needs to stop now. What if I’d been Susan? And Bennett, you’re her boss! Have you forgotten that?” She exhaled deeply. “Look, you two are adults, and I don’t know what’s going on here, but whatever you do, do not let Elliott find out.”

A wave of nausea hit me at the idea of Elliott ever finding out about this, at how disappointed he’d be. I couldn’t bear that. “That won’t be a problem,” I said, purposefully avoiding Bennett’s gaze. “I intend to learn from my mistake. Excuse me.”

I moved past them and toward the stairs, anger and hurt settling like a lead weight deep in my stomach. The strength of my work ethic and motivation had always buoyed me through harder times in my life: breakups, the death of my mother, rough patches with friendships. My value as an employee at RMG was now tinged with self-doubt. Was I making him see me differently because I was f**king him? Now that he’d seemed to register—finally—that if others knew about us it could be bad for him, would he start to question my judgment more globally?

I was smarter than this. It was time I started acting like it.

I composed myself before stepping outside and returning to my seat beside Joel.

I turned my head, letting myself look at him for a moment. He was really quite cute: neatly combed dark hair, a kind face, and the most beautiful blue eyes I’d ever seen. He was everything I should be looking for. My gaze shot up a moment later as Mr. Ryan returned to the table with Mina, but I quickly looked away.

“Yeah, I’m just not feeling well,” I said, turning back to Joel. “I think I might need to call it a night.”

“Here,” he said, standing to pull out my chair. “I’ll walk you to your car.”

I said my good-byes, feeling the unfamiliar shape of Joel’s palm on the small of my back as we walked into the house. Once in the driveway, he gave me a shy smile and took my hand. “It was really nice meeting you, Chloe. I’d like to call you sometime and maybe have that lunch.”